ROUTES AND SAFETY – cycling in Sri Lanka

This article is for anyone who is new to cycling in Sri Lanka, and wants information about frequently used and relatively safe routes – listed below are eight routes divided into loops, flats and hills. 

I’ve also included a section on finding your way and staying safe on Sri Lankan roads. 

First things first: According to SL Police HQ data (2005), cycling is safer than a motorcycle or car. I’ve had some close calls, but as long as you are sensible and careful, you will be safe.

  • Never draft off motorized vehicles.

    Obvious one here.
    Motorbikes, pedestrians and anybody else on the road can cut anybody else off, and if you’re not ON ALERT, bad things will happen.  Whoever you’re drafting behind might swerve or brake hard, and you can imagine how bad that will be. I’ve seen many local cyclists playing it real safe drafting off of tuktuks and the likes. I’ve no clue how they are still around. 
  • I was once stopped and scolded by a cop for not having any lights, at around 6.15pm! I was 16 and also riding on the pavement, which is another offence! I got scolded for that too. Lessons for you.
    You will need a white light pointing forward, and a red reflector for the rear, at least. 
  • Take a puncture kit. Potholes are everywhere. See this article for safety essentials, when you’re out on a long ride.
  • Always keep an eye out around, 100 metres ahead. After enough time on the road, you will be able to predict general driver behaviour, although not always accurately. It’ll save your life though. You’ll want to be up and alive for the next bike ride, right?
  • Be vocal! Shout, to get someone’s attention. It’s an almost innate response to jump out of the way when someone yells ‘watch’ or ‘oi’.
  • Most pretty backroads in any country, are single-lane roads. In Sri Lanka though (although possible anyway), vehicles parked dangerously close to the way of traffic can loom up on you without notice. You’ll know only when your face is planted into the back of a parked lorry. Careful.
  • One more thing: if you are adjacent to a vehicle that is BEING overtaken/passed in that moment, slow down and fall behind that vehicle. Do not be level with a vehicle that is being overtaken/passed, because that vehicle may be forced to swerve off the road if the vehicle DOING the passing has miscalculated the manoeuvre. Picture that scenario in your head, and understand that it is necessary to understand the danger of that situation before you find yourself in it
  • Sleeping dogs
  • Helmet
  • Did I miss anything? Leave it in the comments, so I can add it here.

I do not mean to deter you from cycling in Sri Lanka. It is safe, provided you take a few safety measures to be a step ahead.

CIRCUITS in Colombo

In Sri Lanka, traffic moves forward on the left side. That means any circuit which includes only left-turns will not cut off any traffic, and is safest, as long as you stick to the left-side of the road. There are plenty of these loops, and finding one that works for you isn’t tough. The two listed below are frequented and you are likely to meet other cycling groups. 

Independence Square/Torrington loop

~800m long, and goes counter-clockwise. Passing NCC, going down Independence Avenue, around Torrington ground.

‘Spinner’ loop 

The circuit which is formed between Pelawatte Junction -> Japan SL Friendship Road -> Thalawathugoda Junction -> Pelawatte Junction, totals to ~6km, and is frequented by cyclists on early mornings, weekends and poya days. 

FLATS starting from Colombo

Galle Road

An historic road. Hugs the coast for a good portion of its length, and has a few beautiful stretches. It gets very peaceful, the further away of Colombo you go. Panadura is ~30km from Galle Face, Kalutara is ~43km Similar distances if you start from Spinner Cafe. Galle is ~130km. 

An Airbnb in Galle is super cheap and easy to book on the same day. 

Negombo Road 

Make your way to Baseline road, and turn right, just past the Kelani River, onto the A3. That road goes north and it’s an almost straight road from there, till Negombo. Pass Negombo town by around 5k, to make it a century in total. 

HILLS starting from Colombo

Ingiriya Road

The nicest set of long rolling hills that are close to Colombo, can be found on Ingiriya road. Starting from Spinner, turn left onto Thalawathugoda road and head straight, towards Pannipitiya Junction. Left turn there onto the A4, and it’s a straight road till the Meepe junction. You’ll find a ‘bo’ tree and a little shrine at the centre of the junction. Turn right, onto the slightly hilly road. From there, it’s 18.1km to the other end – Ingiriya Junction. Turning back here, would make it a ~60km ride. Alternatively, turn right, head straight until you come to Galle Road. A right turn onto Galle Road, and you can proceed straight towards Colombo/‘Williams Junction’, turn right and go through Nugegoda back towards Spinner. 

The whole round trip through Ingiriya and Galle road, starting and finishing at Spinner, totals to almost exactly 100km. 

Rathnapura is a slightly hilly route. The town lies at 130m-elevation.You’d find yourself in Rathnapura if you take a left turn instead, at Ingiriya Junction, and head straight. I don’t have the numbers on elevation gain on that route, but it totals to 75km from Spinner, one-way. 

Kandy Road

Accessed through a left turn from Baseline Road, just before entering the Katunayake expressway, OR if you are starting at Spinner: head towards Koswatta (Odel, HNB Bank), turn right and follow the road for ~10km. Turn left at the T-junction past the Kelani River, and stay on that road. That’s the new Kandy road, and you must take a right turn once you fall onto the Kandy Road. Take the right-turn at Ambepussa, to stay on the Kandy Road. Kandy lies at 500m elevation, and is a beautiful climb. It has some great spots to sit down and soak in the morning sun and views. 

Ginigath-hena 

The A4 goes from Pannipitya Junction, through Padukka, Meepe, to Avissawella. A right turn at Avissawella leads to Rathnapura. Keep to the left instead, referring to the green information boards on the roadside as necessary, and find your way to Karawanella. Turn left at Karawanella to keep going uphill. This road straight, leads to Ginigath-hena. Ginigath-hena is ~100km from Spinner. You may turn here, at ~800-1000m, or you may continue straight to Nuwara-eliya. The road is long. 

If you’re into climbing, I must tell you about Everesting. The idea is to climb the height of Everest, in one activity, with no sleep, in repeats of a single hill. No time limit. It’s been done here by 3 cyclists, and may have a reboot in the future. It’ll be on the blog, when that does come around.

Last time, it was the Radella Climb, in Nuwara Eliya. 36 laps of it, to complete the ride. Cold, wet, and dark for half the ride, as recounted by Yasas, one of the three finishers.

Great mountain rides are aplenty, and a post on that will soon be up.

Disclaimer: these routes have been put down here to the best of my memory, and are routes I ride often. They are safe only as long as you are careful. I cannot take responsibility for any harm that befalls you by using the information I have given here, and I urge you to consult Google Maps if you do not know the routes yourself, before you go out riding. Should you choose to, relying on the information given on this blog is at your own risk.

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